The part time consultant counsellor and head of cancer support groupin Apollo Speciality Hospital, Teynampet, shares her experiences as a cancer survivor and a counsellor with R.Sujatha.
Even before Neerja Malik can open the door to her office, a patient rushes to thank her for support. Some time later the patient's daughter drops in to do the same. Another visitor wants her to visit her mother in the hospital.
Having been through chemotherapy herself, Neerja Malik finds it easy to speak to shattered patients and their families about cancer.
An aerobics enthusiast, she ignored a twinge below her armpit until it returned several times to bother her. Diagnosed as breast cancer she underwent chemotherapy when her twins were seven years old. Soon after that an uncle suggested that she talk to his friend who was admitted for cancer to Apollo Hospital in Chennai. And then, nurses in the hospital sought her out to speak to other patients.
The voluntary effort took concrete shape after she was diagnosed with cancer in the other breast six years later. Alert to changes the second time around, she was prepared for the diagnosis. But she must live with a broken rib bone that cannot be set right due to the amount of radiation given to her. “Even a graft from another part of the body will not help heal the bone,” she says. It has denied her the ability to exercise but that is a minor irritant she insists.
Cancer is scary because of the dreadful stories spun around it, she says. “A person with a positive and correct attitude doesn't have to be bogged down with fear. Fear is all about False Emotions Appearing Real,” she says.
Her family pampered her and it helped her get through the treatment, she says. In turn, she dispels fear of chemotherapy in patients referred to her. “I always like to talk to them before chemo so that I can prepare them for it. We have made a CD on chemo with information from doctors and patients that I give during counselling,” she says. She has held the hands of family members as they struggled with the truth that their loved one was slipping away.
Sometimes most of her conversations are over the phone. “I tell them that they are going to help me in my work. I tell them to join the support group.” Though very few have returned to become counsellors, she says she is happy that she has been able to put a smile back on the devastated faces that she encountered when she entered the hospital room.